On Finishing Strong: A Tribute to Dick and Liz Kaufmann

Paul strikes me as the kind of guy who woke up in night sweats from intense dreams. I imagine that as Paul continued to change,  the subject of said supposed dreams changed as well.

I imagine him, when he was still living out of his perfectionistic and performance mentality, waking up fearing failure and exposure of weakness before the Pharisaical leaders. Then I imagine him sitting bolt upright in bed after having detailed flashbacks about his life of persecution of the Church that he grew to love and serve.

I imagine that towards the end of his life, his nightmares moved to fears of not finishing well the life that his dramatic Damascus encounter with Christ began.

While the nightmares of Paul are conjectures, it is known fact that Paul was deeply concerned with finishing well, with completing to the end the course that God had so clearly and deliberately given to him.

But I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, I only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24. 

Lately I have been reading 2 Timothy and fighting to read it imaginatively as the letter it was in truth: the last letter of a dying man to his protege and son in the faith.

As I read over Paul’s constant and stirring urgings to timid Timothy to take courage and steadily stay the course marked out for him as a young pastor and the one to whom Paul was passing on the kingdom baton, they came to life.

One can feel the waves of relief radiating out from this personal and poignant letter. Paul, by God’s sustaining grace, had reached the end faithfully. He had done it. His worst fears of not finishing faithfully were assuaged.

As for me, I feel that the last drops of my life are being poured out for God. The time for my departure has arrived. The glorious fight that God gave me I have fought, the course that I was set I have finished, and I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:6-7 (JB Phillips translation).

While I am so thankful that Paul’s finishing well is recorded in the Canon of Scripture, I am also grateful that we have living examples of Pauls all around us, those running well to the end the course that has been marked out by them.

As I was reading 2 Timothy, I could not help but think immediately of a pair of heroes of the faith that I am privileged to know, even if only on the out skirts.

Dick and Liz Kaufman have not yet finished their race, but they have recently turned the corner into a new stretch. Our church, Redeemer Encinitas, recently declared Dick Pastor Emeritus.

On a double date with them over Christmas break, we inquired what in the world this actually meant. In a very typical Kaufman response, Liz told us through a huge grin, “I think it means something about your toes being close to the grave.”

While their toes are not as close to the grave as their joke made it sound, it was such a joy to celebrate the way they faithfully finished their official ministry course so well. In a world and a culture that love to talk big and start strong, Dick and Liz, by the grace of God and through great discipline in community, have maintained a steady pace over decades of ministry.

If you ask them questions (which you would be a fool not to do if you are ever with these treasures of experience and grace), you will likely watch as their brains run through a verifiable Roladex of stories of God’s faithfulness. Their ministry lives were not lived in ivory towers of ideas but in the mess of real life with real people.

Paul prodded Timothy to stay the steady course, “to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2).

When I sit across from Dick and Liz or watch them from across the room, I see ordinary people who have done just that. It is an added bonus that they did so with a joy and levity that are contagious.

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If you ask them the secret to their long and successful ministries, from New York to California, they would say, “You just share the gospel.” They would share stories of trial and error attempts to gather the neighborhood to hear the gospel from pot lucks to kids camps. They would probably, through peels of laughter, tell you the story of the neighbor who came to faith and then hid a gospel tract in her husband’s sandwich where he would be unable to avoid reading it.

The thing about Dick and Liz that compels me most is that they are not done. They live in a high rise apartment right in the thick of downtown San Diego and they are still looking for “open doors, “ as they say, to share the gospel with neighbors.

They are goofy and down-to-earth but maintain a gospel urgency and centrality to their lives that begs others to get on board and join them. They have taken aging and degenerative diseases in stride by the power of the gospel. They are heroes to me and the countless others who have known them or know them now.

I wish you could know Dick and Liz, but I have a feeling that you have you have a couple like them in your area who are silos of stories of God’s faithfulness through ordinary people and an extraordinary gospel message. By God’s grace, they exist, and they have a wealth of knowledge and perspective to pass on to us. They probably look like an ordinary couple or a quiet widow(er).  If you don’t someone who is finishing strong, it is well worth your intentional pursuit.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings to closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Romans 12:1-2

Here’s to knowing and emulating those who are finishing strong.

When Fiction Strengthens Faith

Among the long list of things I love about living in California is the fact that I now know the land John Steinbeck called home for so long.  His novels have done much to strengthen my faith.

As an avid reader and English major, upon first coming to faith in Christ, I often felt torn between two worlds that are often seen as polemically opposed: literature and Christian writing. Like many new believers, I began to shy away from the rich masterpieces that were not distinctly Christian or theologically sound (which cuts out a large fraction of fiction).

However, over the years, the Lord has drawn my heart back towards the broader literary world.  My faith has only been strengthened as a result. Not all fiction will have such an effect on the soul, as there is enough trashy and God-diminising literature to fill an ocean; however, well chosen, carefully read literature can point us to the Truths of Scripture.

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Fiction has a way of bringing truths we have grown overly accustomed to back to life. Recently, Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, has served to sharpen and strengthen my resolve to fight sin. Strange, I know.

Proverbs 16:25. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. 

James 1: 14-15. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 

Satan knows how to eat an elephant. One bit at a time. 

I have shared this trifecta of truths with both myself and countless college students over the years. Yet, recently through the slow and insidious demise of Steinbeck’s Ethan Allen Hawley in The Winter of Our Discontent, these truths have come to life again, prodding me to more actively fight for truth and to stay the long course of the path of righteousness.

The book begins with Ethan’s heaviness on Good Friday. Having been strongly influenced by his God-fearing Aunt Deborah.

“Good Friday has always troubled me. Even as a child I was deep taken with sorrow, not at the agony of the crucifixion, but feeling the blighted loneliness of the Crucified. And I have never lost the sorrow, planted by Matthew, and read to me in the clipped, tight speech of my New England Great-Aunt Deborah.”

Ethan, a lowly store clerk at the grocery store, has fallen from old money and high status to a very simple life after his father lost their fortune. He is a happy man with a wife who adores him and two teenage children. In a town obsessed with success and advancement and comfort, he stands out as someone committed to doing things right when no one is looking, as someone who refuses to sell out to the almighty dollar and the relativity of ethics surrounding him.

The book follows the demise of Ethan Allen in a few short months. A condescending conversation with the wealthy banker, a complaint from his kids that they don’t have what everyone else has, a brush with a femme fatale, and a few unexpected opportunities to cheat in small ways were the troop of tiny tugboats that moved the freight liner of Ethan’s character in a different direction.

He slips into relative thinking and justification of actions that he had formerly known as fixed wrong.

“In business and in politics a man must carve and maul his way through men to get to be King of the Mountain. Once there, he can be great and kind – but he must get there first.”

In a “just this once until I can get my feet back under me” way of thinking, Ethan takes off his morality with the intention to put it right back on when he is back on his feet.

This chance of perspective begins small and contained, adding a little pep to his step and a little flavor to the monotony of righteousness. But throughout the unfolding of the novel, this relative morality becomes pervasive and takes over the once stalwart clerk.

Throughout the entire novel, the voice of Aunt Deborah and the Biblical truth she espoused, once loud, welcomed and celebrated becomes quieter and quieter until he can no longer hear it at all.

Throughout the entire novel, the warning of Jesus in Mark 8:36 echoed in my soul.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”

It was too late for Ethan when he realized what he had done; however, watching his slow transformation, the Lord shored up my soul to fight hard for myself and my family and those in my flock.

We have so much to learn from fiction. May we see in the creativity of the master writers the hints of truth that point us to the Master of all time and history and art.

 

Crossing the Line

After having dreamed of freedom for nearly 30 years, Harriet Tubman took victorious steps into the free state of Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine the relief, the joy, the satisfaction that must have flooded her tired body after having conducted through various danger-laden stations of the Underground Railroad. She had left her husband, a free negro who had threatened to tell her Master if she sought to run away. She had left it all for the promise of freedom, staying true to her personal vow liberty or death.

Our boys listened intently (a rare thing for our morning “motions” as Phin calls our devotions) as we read about Harriet Tubman this morning.  To be honest, the story fell upon my ears in a fresh way.

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She had made it to Pennsylvania. She had, by the grace of God and the help of so many now nameless and unknown abolitionists, crossed the line into safety.

What did she do with her freedom? She took her free self back over that line into danger, she crossed the line many times bringing over 300 other passengers to enjoy freedom.

The image of Harriet Tubman’s tired feet stepping from a place of safety and privilege and a hard-fought-for-freedom back into risk and uncertainty has been haunting my soul all day.

It would have been completely understandable for her to have said, “I have had my fair share of suffering; I have been hit on the head with a two-pound weight sacrificing myself so a runaway slave wouldn’t be caught; I have struggled with headaches everyday since; I had to leave my husband and my family. I get to rest now.”

It would have been admirable for her to build a house close to the border and cheer other passengers on as they reached safety, welcoming them to free ground.  Do all you possibly can from a place of safety to further the abolitionist agenda. If I am honest, that would probably be my natural inclination.

But she left a place of privilege, laid down her newly worn right to freedom and personally with great risk to herself, ushered others to freedom.

It makes for an amazing story. It reads well for a morning devotion. But it makes for quite uncomfortable application.

If I read Galatians 5:13 correctly, I am convicted that Harriet’s bold and brazen act of crossing the line is not meant to be the exception, but the rule of Christian living.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I am reminded of Numbers 32 when the Ruebenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh receive the land they requested east of the Jordan River with one important provision.

We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place….We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.”  Numbers 32:16-18.

They had found a land suitable to their way of living, a perfect place for raising livestock, but the rest of the tribes of Israel were still a long way from their places of peace. They vowed that they would not enjoy their own land or settle down fully until their brothers had received their respective lots.  For many years they did so, as seen in Joshua 22: 3-4.

You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised to them. Therefore, turn and go to your  tents in the land where your possession lies. 

Harriet and the half-tribe of Manasseh challenge me. They remind me that even though I have been graciously transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and freedom, ther is work to be done.

It is not enough that I sit in church pews and pray for people to come to the Church’s doors. The example of Jesus who left Heaven to come and seek and save the lost bids me follow him out of my comfort zone. He calls me to cross the line back into enemy territory to go find would-be brothers and sisters. He bids me personally point them, spot-by-spot, danger-by-danger, step-by-step toward the One who offers a much deeper freedom than Pennsylvania offered Harriet Tubman.

Oh, that we would be a generation of Harriets, crossing back over many times to lead others to the true freedom found in Christ alone.

 

Memento Mommy

Many of history’s scholars kept a skull on their desks, as a reminder of the brevity of life. While As we live in an age of pithy self-esteem and positivity, these memento mori, as they were called, may seem morbid to our modern eyes and ears. However, they served the purpose of placing our lives in the eternal backdrop as a mist, a vapor and the blink of an eye.

I do not have a skull on my desk, nor do I actually much time sitting at my desk. To be honest, my desk is cluttered with books and dust and few handmade Lego placards made by my tiny men. I do, however, have a memento mommy that I have collected.

While running (which looks more like jogging and walking intermittently these days) a few weeks ago, I found myself processing and praying through motherhood and its brevity.

We have three boys. Two of them are old enough to read novels and share them with me, to go on a run with me, to stay home while I run to get bread at the grocery store. One of them just chose to donate his toy tool set to Goodwill on the self-taught premise that “They were getting too babyish.” They can all dress themselves (notice I did not say match or look well kept) and use the restroom without any aid.

These may sound like molehills to you, but I vividly remember the day when these far off benchmarks looked more like the Himalayan mountains to me. While our days of strollers and diapers seem like spots in the rearview mirror, the horizon seems to hold many new mountain ranges. Middle school decisions, puberty, driving lessons and other tall peaks loom ahead of us.

All these thoughts were running through my head as my feet attempted to run beneath me. Lord, you said that if any man (or mom) lacks wisdom, he (she) should ask of you who freely gives without any reproach. Here I am again, as always, in need of wisdom for these boys.

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Smiling, I stopped dead in my tracks upon seeing a cluster of three empty acorn caps.  Since moving to San Diego, the land of a thousand palms, acorns have become treasures to me.  I stooped down and picked it up, this timely memento mommy.

I found in the tiny treasure a perfect reminder of the fleeing nature of these days of motherhood. Right now, the weight of the acorns that the Lord has entrusted to my husband and I seems heavy. The role of protecting and providing and posturing these literal and figurative nuts seems to be out of my expertise and far-beyond the capacity of this momma.

Yet, in time, these acorns of mine, little oaks in the making, will be sent out to their proper places where they will be planted. I will be left with a cluster of three empty acorn cases.

Far from making me a morbid momma, the reality of the empty acorn caps propelled me back into the trenches of motherhood with perspective. These days are long, but the years are short. I only have so much time to nurture these would-be oaks, to position and posture them toward the Lord, to enjoy them, to study and shape them.

Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. The least one shall become a clan, the smallest one a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it. Isaiah 60: 21-22

…That they might be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations, they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastation of many generations. Isaiah 61: 3-4

Lord, may we glorify you as we seek to raise up oaks of righteousness. May we enjoy these acorns while they are under our care. May we also so entrust our identities to you so that even when our caps are empty casings, we are filled with deeper purposes and praises. Amen.

On Redundancy

Put your shoes on the shoe bench. Put your clothes all the way into the hamper. Brothers are our first best friends. Take it down a few notches. 

If someone were to shadow me, the tally of times I say these phrases weekly and daily would be astronomical.

I wish I could say that I am not annoyed by redundancy, by the sheer fact that simply saying something one time (or a hundred) does not make it stick. However, these phrases often come out of my mouth tainted and tempered with the impatience that lies latent within my heart.

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How many times must we repeat the phrases and fight for the principles that are valuable to us?  I think Jesus may have answered this question similarly to the question regarding how many times the disciples ought to forgive their brothers. Seventy times seven, which, to the Hebrew mind, would have suggested the same as “Infinity times infinity.”

The only thing that tempers my temper regarding redundancy is the Lord’s gracious redundancy toward His children. Knowing how often the Holy Spirit has to lead my forgetful and fretting heart back to the same passages promising the peace of Christ takes the edge out of my voice when I have to redundantly train and retrain my children.

Motherhood is redundant. Training is redundant. Discipleship is redundant. And well they should be, for repetitive sin requires a redundancy of grace.

Only months after having established a fledgling Church at Galatia, Paul had to write a zinger of a letter to them to remind them of the same things he had just so recently and clearly expounded to them. They were forgetting the gospel already; however, Paul wisely recognized that these were his spiritual children and that children need reminding again and again. And again.

My little children, with whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you. Galatians 4: 19. 

When I tempted to grow bitter at the redundancy of raising children, both spiritual and physical, this Scripture comes to mind. Tagging along behind this verse, a long chain of people appears. People, who not only worked that I have manners and respect, but also patiently labored and continue to labor until Christ be formed more fully in me.

The link running through all these different people is the Rescuer, Jesus, who was familiar with redundancy.

His is the redundancy of a Redeemer, one ready to remind His children over and over again whatever is true, honorable, just, lovely, commendable, excellent and praise worthy, namely the great exchange on the Cross which became the Good News.

In light of His patient and persistent training of me, the redundancy inherent to the role of mother or disciple-maker seems like a drop in the ocean.

May we redundantly sing His praises until we no longer need to remember the gospel because we will know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

 

 

The Power of Play

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

My eyes filled with happy tears as my happy memories of playing with my two sisters flooded my mind. In preparing to attend my youngest sister’s baby shower for her first and long-awaited for little girl, I have been buying some of our favorite nostalgic toys from our own childhood, namely and most notably a Cabbage patch doll and those weird bottles that look like they contain moving orange juice.

As I was wrapping these gifts that tapped into an archive of years of memories playing, I heard the rowdy gaggle of neighborhood boys planning an addition to their ram-shackle, tumble-down fort of spare parts. What began as a few pieces of wood has nearly taken over our overly-gracious neighbor’s entire side yard and has become our boys most recent palace of play.

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As an intense human living in a busy and ambitious culture finding myself in such adult roles as wife and mom and minster of the gospel, I tend toward self-seriousness.  The tyranny of the urgent (read: laundry and lunches, homework and household chores) tends to hold me captive and has a way of sapping my life and perspective of wonder and play.

I was in such a state last week at our annual New Year’s conference where the Lord does tend to do some serious work in our lives and the lives of our college students. I had finally tamed my overly-stimulated children into sleep and left them with a babysitter to go do some of the Lord’s work at one of the seminars that began at 9:45 pm (only in college ministry is this even remotely normal).

I sat my exhausted self down in a chair at the back of the room, excited to hear my first talk from beginning to end while taking copious notes (I told you I was intense). As I was pulling out my journal, a precious little 5 year old approached me, all smiles and mischief.

“Will you play with me?” she asked with the begging eyes of a bored little girl stuck in an adult meeting.

As much as I wanted to be serious and do the serious thing, I knew the Lord wanted me to play with her.

We went into the hallway and proceeded to play a series of ridiculous games for over 30 minutes. We played lightening and thunder (which was really just tag, who knew?), we played keep up the balloon and we rode the escalator. A lot.

It was the highlight of my whole conference. I learned more from little friend Addison in that playtime than I learned the rest of the conference, with all due respect to our amazing speakers.

G. K. Chesterton, who wove wonder with his words, wrote the following about the playfulness and joy our Father God in his book Orthodoxy.

“It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

There is a world of difference between holy play that brings us into the presence of God and the escapist recreation that plagues our culture and our own lives all too often. One seeks to distract us from reality while the other brings us more deeply into the reality of the gospel and the world.

While glutting ourselves on recreation and man-made escapist fun deadens and numbs us, there is a place for recreation (re-creation) in the truest sense of the term. A few minutes of play in the presence of our God and the people whom He has sovereignly placed around us can propel us back into our tasks and chores and responsibilities with a heightened sense of wonder and purpose.

I wish that we were privy to the quick pull away retreats that the gospels tell us Jesus took with his tired disciples. With the weary world crowding in on them, needing legitimate healing from legitimate diseases and general dis-ease, I imagine Jesus finding ways to keep them laughing and playful, like when they were plucking wheat in the fields on the Sabbath. Along with his parables that taught serious lessons, I imagine that our Lord of life shared many funny anecdotes with his young and lively disciples.

C.S. Lewis captures this livelihood and merriment in the powerful yet playful Aslan in The Magician’s Nephew.  After literally roaring Narnia into being and introducing them to themselves, Aslan gives them commands and warning. The wonderful creatures all respond in unison, “No, Aslan, we won’t, we won’t.” But one jackdaw added a phrase on at the end when everyone else was silent, so caught up was he in the activity and joy. All the animals began to giggle under their breath and the jackdaw was embarrassed. Aslan’s response invites merriment.

 “Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”  

We do well to the look to the ant, as the proverbs command, but we also do well to look to the playful antics of children.

 

Welcoming His Will

A few years ago, we received a few nights stay at a hotel in town as a gift for my husband’s pulpit filling (which I had no trouble gladly welcoming, come to think of it). We signed our kids out of school early, blindfolded them and put them in the car for a mystery adventure. While they were curious, they were not scared. While they were eager to know more details, they were far from resistant.

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Why? Because they know us. If they can trust us in all our limitations and broken love, how much more ought we to trust the One who was unlimited in His love by sending His son to receive our punishment that we might be received?

Unfortunately for me, a gaping chasm exists between the aforementioned ought and my natural response to God’s will. A glad acceptance and smiling surrender to the will of the Father does not come naturally to me.

When I think of welcoming, I think of the way my youngest child drops his toys at preschool and sprints to the gate upon my arrival. All smiles, all hugs, welcoming me back into his day.

Do I do this with the Father each day? Each new season and turn of life? What keeps me from doing so? What is underneath my reluctance to receive His will, which as Frances Ridley Havergal said so beautifully is merely His love in motion?

While we always walk into the unknown, the turn of the year has a way of smacking us in the face with the reality of our lack of control, our dependence and utter reliance on God’s will. Just as James reminded the early Church, we do well to make plans and resolutions. We also do well to submit those plans and preferences to the Lord.

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you area mist that appears for little time and then vanishes…You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. James 4:14-15. 

I don’t imagine Sarai, in her old age, planning that she would leave her well-established estate and life to follow her aged husband to an unknown land. Yet, she welcomed the will of the God who would later be called the God of Abraham, and Judaism and Christianity are indebted to her submission.

I don’t imagine that Hagar planned on having her life collide with two Israelite spies who would need to be hidden on her thatched roof; yet, she welcomed the sudden will of the God she had only heard about in rumors, and we are indebted to her welcoming that will.

I don’t imagine engaged Mary, looking out upon her future life anticipating a divine and rather untimely child. Yet, Mary consented to the will of God and we the world is indebted to her for the child she received.

How do we become women (or men) who receive the will of the Father? How do we posture our lives in such a way as to receive what He brings to us, whether that be unexpected trials like depression, sickness and unplanned moves or His much easier-to-accept gifts of emotional, relational, spiritual or physical prosperity?

Knowledge and trust. It is so much easier to trust those we know and adore. Unlike our relationships with other broken humans, where to know more is not necessarily to trust more, to know God more is to trust Him more. He is altogether trustworthy.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 19:7-8).

There is no higher human compliment, in my book, than “To know him/her is to love him/her” and such a compliment can surely be said only and ultimately of the Lord.

May this be a year marked by deeper knowledge of our Father that leads to deeper trust in receiving His will.  May we be able to say with Anna Laetitia Waring, the hymn writer, the following.

In Heavenly Love Abiding 

In heavenly love abiding
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here:
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,,
And can I be dismayed?

Wherever He may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim:
He knows the way He taketh,
And I will walk with Him.

 

A Christian Perspective on Mindfulness

Be present. Just breath. Enjoy today. Be all here. You are enough.

Phrases such as these, along with Mindfulness Coloring Books, have invaded our newsfeeds, as well as our bookstores.

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Typically, Christians have one of two responses to the Mindfulness Movement. Either they reject it because of its Eastern roots in other religions or they accept it, saying that Jesus said to be mindful of the flowers of the field and the sparrows.

As Christianity is the capital T Truth, we should expect to see bits of the lowercase t truth in other world religions. Christianity alone will offer the full perspective and will center those bits of truth we may find in other religions in the character of our one true God.

We must do the hard work of running pieces of truths, often exaggerated or truncated, through the sieve of the Truth as seen and revealed in the Scriptures and the Son of the living God.

We have learned to ask three questions of our culture and its trends. What can we accept? What must we reject? What can Christ redeem?

What can we accept?
Mindfulness and its message of being present and living in the now does have some echoes of the words and message of Christ.  In a culture overrun with anxiety, which Soren Kierkegaard called “the dizziness of freedom,” people easily become crippled by choices. In the past and in cultures with less access to choice, one’s life was chosen by one’s family or necessity; however, in our culture of choices where choosing a cereal is one of thousands of choices we are privileged to make in one day, it easy to become crippled with anxiety about the future or obsessed with what-ifs regarding the past.

It is no wonder that mindfulness has risen to such popularity with its message of staying in the present.

Christ himself reminded his people the dangers of worrying in the Sermon on the Mount.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them….Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6: 26 & 34.

Mindfulness exercises, long a part of the monastic traditions, help to add an often neglected aspect to the Christian life. While mainstream practices tend to focus on thinking and doing, mindfulness exercises can bring to Christianity an often-missing sense of being.  That being said, mindfulness is currently being espoused in our culture as a sort of religion all its own.

What must we reject?
The problem with the growing tendency to create a faith system out of mindfulness alone is twofold. First, it is only a partial truth exaggerated out into an entire philosophy of life. Second, it tells you to be present without giving you the underlying worldview which enables such peaceful presence. It’s overly simplistic messages do not take into account our elaborately broken world and broken souls. As such, while it sounds compelling and even right, mindfulness, as taught by our culture, cannot deliver what it promises.

Often, those who espouse mindfulness tell us to let go of our concern or fears or needs by detaching from them or repeating phrases to ourselves like, “Be here” or “You are enough.”  This sounds helpful, but urges us to ignore the troubles and the truths (our brokenness, our desperate needs, our guilt before God or others) that would lead us to the One lasting peace which is found in the work of Christ.

What can Christ redeem?
The Christian reality of being fully present must be rooted in deep time and in the deeper reality of the character of our knowable and personal God. There are not enough deep breaths and coloring sheets in the world to give me the peace and presence that we need.

The only way for us to fully be present and peaceful in this moment is to know where we come from and where we are headed. Christianity answers both of these questions.

Paul, in seeking to explain to the Ephesians how to live in the situations that made up their present, anchored them in the deeper realities of their past and future.

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation fo the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6.

A tightrope walker holding a balancing rod is able to walk on the tension of the thinnest cable. Mindfulness tells you to stay on the cable, but does not give you a balancing rod or a context for that present moment. Christianity gives us an infinite balancing rod that reaches from before time was wound to the day when the Sun will shine no more. Knowing that we were loved before time began by the Creator God of the universe, knowing that He invaded our present as God Incarnate to deal with the series of schisms between God and man, man and fellow man, man and himself and man creation, knowing that He will set all things right again. These truths balance us in deep time and enable us to be fully present on the thin cable that is our now.

Happy tight rope walking to you, my friend.

 

Recording God’s Faithfulness Ring By Ring

Our lives are living records of God’s faithfulness. Looking back over the years, we are able to recount God’s sustaining grace to us through a myriad of different seasons. Tree ring by tree ring, He has sustained us.

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One Dollar More

Supposedly, John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon often considered one of the wealthiest Americans of all time, when asked what would make him happy, answered, “One dollar more.”

My husband and I live on the generosity of the supporters of the Campus Ministry that employs us. I love thrift stores and we try (try being the operative word) to keep to a tight grocery budget. At first glance, we are a far cry from the Rockefeller lifestyle; however, my heart is infected with the same sickness that seems to have plagued him.

While I don’t find myself clinging to the next dollar, I do find myself clinging to and hanging my hope upon the next article I write, the next exciting adventure or the next way to be more organized.  For my kids, it can look like one more Lego set, one more goal, or one more Starburst.

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Just one more.
For some it may be one more pound lost or one more sports car. For others, it may be one more child or one more promotion. For others, it might be one more compliment or five more minutes of fame. While it manifests in the widest spectrum of symptoms, the disease distempers each of us who inhabit this spinning rock.  At some point after achieving that achievement or possessing that possession or reaching that milestone, we find ourselves creating a new one more to add to the ceaseless series.

If only I could be more.
As we approach New Year’s resolution season, my case of the Just One Mores tends to become exacerbated and is joined by an acute case of the “If only I could be more…” If only I could be more disciplined, I could lose those extra inches. If only I could be more laid back, our household would be more light-hearted. If I only I could be more consistent, my walk with God would more closely mirror Mother Theresa’s.  If only I could be better at keeping in touch, I could be a better daughter and friend.

In theory, I love the fresh slate of an approaching new year; however, in practice, I find the turn of the calendar paralyzing on account of the Just One Mores and the If Only I Could Be Mores.

Antidotes.
As I come into the home stretch of 2017 and stare into 365 days of an unknown and unknowable 2018, I want to hang my hope and happiness, my security and success on the all-knowing God is who eminently knowable.  In His revealed Word and the fullest revelation of Himself in the person of Christ, I find the antidote to my sin-sickness.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  1 Timothy 6:6-8. 

Physical food and actual clothing, yes. But we have an eternal food and clothing completely provided for us by the person of Christ.

When Christ was on the earth, He gave us hints into the secret of His contentment with his early career of carpentry and his second career as an itinerant preacher.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. John 4:32. 

Through Christ, we are given the righteous robes that cover our ragged attempts at self-righteousness and self-improvement.  In Christ, we are given the opportunity to make God’s will and ways our bread.

In Christ, we have food and clothing and the antidote to our cases of One Mores and If Only I Could Be Mores.

As we look to a new year, we trust not in our own efforts or strength, but in the completed work of the Risen and Resurrected Christ.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21. 

One More can become One More Chance to lean on the God who can do far more than I could ever dream or plan.